The politics of division

Beverley McLachlin,Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada| Photo by Gervásio Baptista, Agência Brasil

Beverley McLachlin,Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada| Photo by Gervásio Baptista, Agência Brasil

More than ever, the Harper government’s electoral strategy seems quite clear: divide and rule. Conservative followers might not agree with this point of view but the Prime Minister and his acolytes’ actions make it increasingly hard to come to any other conclusion.

The most recent example is his public spat with no less than the head of the Supreme Court of Canada – an unprecedented event, at least in Canada’s recent history. Many people might opine that it is perfectly acceptable, in our democracy, to disagree with a decision ruled in our courts and that there are procedures in place for both governments and individuals to appeal such decisions.

However, even appeals have to be capped, sooner or later. In this country, as in many others, it is the role of the Supreme Court, the uppermost tier of the Canadian judicial system, to give a final ruling. Its decisions are beyond any appeal. This does not mean that the government is without recourse when facing judgments issued by that court. Governments can always opt to change laws, as long as they meet the highest tribunal’s criteria. We saw such changes here in B.C .during the recent dispute between the provincial government and the province’s teachers.

But when it comes to the Conservative government in Ottawa, it is clear that one of their main concerns has always been with the powers bestowed to the courts. The current Prime Minister follows the school of thought that Parliament should be the lawmaker, not the courts. In fact, the Prime Minister is right. It’s for Parliament to write laws. This is one of the pillars of our democracy. Parliament and provincial legislatures are in charge of presenting and adopting various legislative measures.

This fundamental separation of powers between Parliament and the judicial system is important. However, the way Harper is using innuendo when it comes to the courts’ powers is troubling. His approach is key to the divisive politics that top the list in the Conservative’s electoral campaign strategy. This modus operandi has been and continues to be that of the Republican Party of the United States. There is nothing very elegant in this way of addressing such a core part of our democracy as general elections, yet such machinations do meet with a certain degree of success.

This brings me back to the public altercation between the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice. The whole thing is so bizarre that we can only conclude it is a political ploy aimed at fortifying the Conservative Party’s base. A bit sad, but more often than not divisive politics spark the troops into rallying and amassing funds. Where are the limits to this? We’ll know come next general elections.